Hundreds of mourners gathered outside of al-Shifa hospital to protest the killing of Tawfiq Abu Reyaleh, a 34-year-old fisherman shot by the Israeli navy just hours before.
Along with his shipmates on the overnight shift, the late father of four was struck by a bullet when Israeli forces opened fire on their boat on 7 March, as they sailed within the six-nautical mile limit that Israel has imposed on Gaza’s sea vessels, according to the fishermen.
Abu Reyaleh was survived by his wife and four children, who live in northern Gaza.
“We just want to be like fishermen everywhere,” his mourning cousin, Emad al-Sayeed Abu Reyala, told The Electronic Intifada. “We are not asking for so much; just a basic right. Our rights are not protected — not by the world, not by the Arab countries. Our lives are in God’s hands.”
“My cousin wasn’t the first fisherman to be shot by the Israelis and he won’t be the last. There isn’t a fisherman in Gaza who hasn’t been shot at,” Emad said, adding that his son was injured when Israeli naval forces shot him in December.
“If there the world has a conscience, it will stop these crimes,” he said.
Since a ceasefire ended Israel’s 51 days of intensive bombing in late August, Palestinian fishermen in Gaza say they have only been allowed to access an area within six nautical miles off the coast. Yet, according to the 1993 Oslo accords, fishermen should be allowed to sail up to twenty nautical miles offshore.
Those who go near that boundary line are likely to be arrested or shot at by Israeli naval forces.
Israel has long tightened restrictions on Palestinian fishermen.
“Over the years, the Israeli military gradually reduced this range, severely damaging the livelihood of thousands of families and the availability of this basic and inexpensive food in the markets, which had served as a significant nutritional source,” according to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group.
Abdelmuti Ibrahim al-Habil has fished up and down the Gaza Strip’s coast for more than a quarter century. “I started working as a fisherman with my father when I was just fifteen years old,” he told The Electronic Intifada.
His five sons, all in their twenties, work as fishermen with him. As he stands on the shore near Gaza City’s port, they work on the boat’s stalled motor behind him. After several minutes, the motor finally fires up and they clap and laugh.
“They’ve been working on fixing the boat for six weeks,” al-Habil said, adding that the boat was nearly destroyed when Israeli naval forces sunk it with gunfire on 26 January.
Like all Palestinian fishermen in Gaza, al-Habil has long suffered Israeli restrictions and attacks. But he never imagined that Israeli forces would go as far as to sink the boat.
“They arrested my [five] kids,” he said, recalling that they were taken to Ashdod, a port city in the south of present-day Israel. “For two days, we had no idea where they were. We didn’t know if they died when the boat went under.”
After Israeli intelligence and military officers interrogated them for forty-eight hours, al-Habil’s sons were dropped off at the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel.
According to the United Nations monitoring group OCHA, Israeli forces fired live ammunition at Palestinian fishermen at least seventeen times between 27 January and 9 February.
In the first half of 2014, before the summer war in Gaza, Israeli naval forces fired at Palestinian fishermen in the six mile nautical zone at least 177 times, “nearly as much as in all of 2013,” according to the humanitarian charity Oxfam.
Hajj Rajab, 81, has fished since he was a teenager.
“My father taught me to fish. I taught my children and grandchildren how to finish. I’ve worked here many years,” he told The Electronic Intifada. “It used to be good work. Not anymore.”
Rajab explained that Israeli shelling targeted dozens of fishermen’s storage areas, including his own, last summer.
“They destroyed everything,” he said. “They destroyed us … the fishermen.” Nonetheless, he continues to go out to sea each day. “There aren’t any other choices for fishermen. Most of us have done this our whole lives.”
The economic impact of Israel’s restrictions has been disastrous for the fishermen.
“Unfortunately, as you see now, they only allow us to reach up to six miles, and sometimes it’s only three,” Mahmoud al-Hissi, a twenty-year-old father, told The Electronic Intifada.
“After six miles, there are rocks and reef on the ocean floor – that’s where the real fish are,” al-Hissi said. “We could go out and fish for the morning and make money, instead of heading out for 24-hour shifts and barely breaking even.”
The fishermen work for a portion of the catch, which they sell in the market after returning to shore, al-Hissi explained. “I sometimes work for 24 hours and then only profit 75 shekels [approximately $19],” he said. “But recently it’s been less because there just aren’t any fish.”
Ahmad al-Hissi, Mahmoud’s cousin, explained that fishing has become a dangerous profession in recent years.
“If we stay about a kilometer from the six mile marker, we’re fine,” he told The Electronic Intifada. “But if we get any closer, they’ll [the Israeli navy] make problems for us.”
Shukri, Ahmad and Mahmoud’s shipmate, said that they would be able to make a decent living if they weren’t restricted to such a small and overfished space.
“If we could just get out to about nine nautical miles, we’d be rich men,” he said.
Editor’s note: due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Tawfiq Abu Reyalah was the father of five children. It has been corrected to state that he was the father of four children.
Ezz Zanoun is a freelance photographer based in the Gaza Strip. His work has appeared at The Guardian, APA, Time, BuzzFeed, El Mundo, Reuters and many more. Follow his work on Facebook.